This point in the journey really had a lot to do with road conditions. Getting there from Etna was not as straightforward as our dueling navigation systems suggested. We find that Acura is not to be trusted completely when it comes to routes because it has directed us toward narrow, dirt roads on plenty of occasions. But even Google wanted to take us on Highway 36 along a stretch that had yellow warning signs posted, saying specifically not to do that with a trailer. Heck, even the ‘how to get here’ blurb from the State Park website said in no uncertain terms not to take 36 coming from the East. So we asked around about Highway 299 and got reassurances from people with bigger trailers than ours that 299 was fine. Those are always the people to ask.
I was gearing myself up for a long, strenuous day of towing in the mountains, but ended up being pleasantly surprised, which sort of mimicked our 15 years ago bike trip through these parts. Highway 3 from Etna to Weaverville was twisty and narrow, but also had very little traffic so I could go slowly. There were guard rails in places where I wanted them, and there was never any worry about whether oncoming traffic would take us out. And it’s a totally beautiful section of California. I could easily see making a trek to Trinity Lake for an extended stay and being quite pleased.
We passed through the quaint little town of Weaverville before heading east on Highway 299, and spent the next many miles watching river rafters floating down the Trinity River. We only got stuck once by road construction, which more closely resembled mountain side destruction. I guess you have to cause the landslides to prevent the landslides?
299 gives you a good climb out of the coastal range, but totally fine for Bruce towing Dory. I do remember riding that particular section on a bike. Richard remembers that too. Mostly, we both still have the image of me getting to the top of the first climb and bursting into tears because that was only the first one of the day. I cried, miserably chewed some cookies, and somehow got to the summit of the next climb way before I expected. Then it was time for happy tears and a long, long descent into Arcata. Know what? Cars are awesome.
Once across the top, cell service came back, along with gas stations and grocery stores. We did some provisioning and headed out to the campground, arriving easily by 5. Not so bad. I had to reserve two different sites in order to achieve a three night stay. We left everything hitched up, knowing we’d be moving two spots over the next day. I’ll note that both sites were designated for “motor homes” and thus, the picnic table and fire rings were on the wrong side of Dory. There was plenty of room between us and our neighbors, plus room at the back, so it didn’t really matter. Just something to note.
The campground is really nice, with one exception: road noise. People take Highway 36 very fast. They even honk at campers when they slow down to turn into the campground. The single loop is right by the road and we could hear cars whooshing along any time we were hanging around in the site. Otherwise, it’s got lots of shade, a river to play in, and some pretty hiking trails to explore. We did all of the trails (maybe 5 miles total?) in one day. It’s your standard old growth redwood forest, so very lush and very beautiful. There’s also lots of poison oak to dodge.
The next day, we had this great idea to go explore the “Lost Coast.” There’s a road that runs from Ferndale to Petrolia that boasts views of some of the last undeveloped California coastline. The fact that not many bikers talk about riding that part of Mattole Road should maybe have tipped us off. I took a whole lot of pictures, but not one of them captures the road conditions that whipped my sweetie’s ass. He valiantly covered maybe fifteen or so miles of relentless climbing, over terrible conditions. We’re talking sustained grades of at least 12-15%. And then he’d hit gravel sections, cattle grates, steep descents over nonstop potholes, it was crazy. I stayed as close as I could to SAG, but the road was so narrow, I had a hard time finding places I could safely pull over to wait. At this one killer part, I don’t even know how steep it was, 20%??, I was able to stop and wait. And wait, and wait. I started to worry when I saw the poor guy straddle walking his bike up an insane incline. I talked him into putting his bike in the car, just until the ultra steep section had calmed down a little. I then let him out at a ridge and he continued on for a while. Until the third gravel section, this time going down at maybe 18%. That was enough for him and we continued the rest of the way in the car.
Holy cow, there’s a reason this coast is “lost.” Insanely beautiful? Absolutely. But not at all a minor thing to reach. At least I wasn’t towing. Crazily, we were passed many times by trucks, like actual big trucks, some with trailers, hauling who knows what. I get it that they’re used to the roads, but one of them would probably have taken off my towing mirror if I hadn’t removed it first. Anyway, it was well worth the drive out, just to see, but I’m pretty happy not to have blown a tire, even going super slow.
After that, we got dinner at a great place in Ferndale called Tuyas. Ferndale itself is worth a trip out of one’s way. It’s a beautifully preserved Victorian village with historical places we should go back and visit some time. We were tired.
Heading back to Dory, we made a quick stop at Cheatham Grove. The claim to fame here is that the grove was used as the background in the famous speeder bike chase scene in Return of the Jedi. Yes, we looked for Ewoks, but saw none. Yes, I was tempted to have us both put on our bike helmets and make “Zzzzzzzhhhhh” sounds while doing the short loop trail. I resisted the urge, but imagined it fully.
Grizzly Creek is a really nice state park and I’d go back, even despite the road noise. There was maybe one site with a direct river view, 12 or 14 possibly? Those two might also have a teeny bit of solar. The rest, nope, it’s pretty deep shade. There is also no dump on site, so we found a private place in Eureka, Mad River Rapids, that let us dump for $5. Awesome park for a couple of nights!
Total miles from Etna: 215.6, 5 hours 40 min, 16.4 mpg. Site 4, then 1. No hookups, no dump, no solar, no cell service. Decent Wifi inside and right in front of the Visitor Center, which became the internet addicts’ watering hole. Bathrooms fine. Some sites big enough for trailers are really for motorhomes and have the picnic table/fire ring on the right hand side of the site.